Laura Bush, Cindy McCain focus on Gustav

ST. PAUL — With President Bush and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain blasts Graham for refuting funeral remark about Kushner, Ivanka Trump Flake, Cindy McCain among latest Biden ambassadors confirmed after delay Meghan McCain to Trump: 'Thanks for the publicity' MORE (R-Ariz.) focused on Hurricane Gustav, First Lady Laura Bush and her would-be successor Cindy McCain addressed the less-than-full convention hall and urged attendees on Monday night to contribute to hurricane relief efforts.

The unusual opening night of the convention was adjourned shortly after 5 p.m. local time (6 p.m. EST), after Laura Bush and Cindy McCain spoke from the podium about the need to put the well-being of Gulf Coast residents ahead of partisan politics.

"I would ask that each one of us commit to join together to aid those in need as quickly as possible," Cindy McCain said. "As John has been saying for the last several days, this is a time when we take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats."

Laura Bush led off by introducing a video featuring the Republican governors of the Gulf states, as the campaign and GOP officials worked furiously to portray themselves as prepared and connected to the Gulf region after the devastating political effects of Hurricane Katrina three years ago. After the video, Laura Bush came back out on the stage accompanied by Cindy McCain.

The two women were met with thunderous applause as they came out to announce a McCain campaign effort — — to raise money for Gulf hurricane victims.

Instead of addressing the convention in person, President Bush flew to a Federal Emergency Management Agency outpost in Texas. Bush and Vice President Cheney had been scheduled to speak on Monday night.

In their stead, Laura Bush and Cindy McCain served as the day's headliners, attending a Louisiana delegation breakfast earlier in the day where the first lady put in a plug for McCain’s vice presidential choice, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and for the president.

“When you're a mayor, your constituents are next door,” she said of Palin’s experience, noting that a mayor can be more in touch than a president. She quickly added, “Although I don’t think President Bush is out of touch.”

Palin was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, before being elected governor in 2006.

For most delegates at the Louisiana breakfast, Cindy McCain’s presence was a given but Laura Bush’s came as a surprise. The women provided prayer and comfort to members of the delegation, many of whom expressed deep anxieties about the safety of family members and the condition of their homes back in Louisiana.

“Our hearts and our thoughts are so deeply with you and the Gulf Coast,” Cindy McCain told the breakfast audience in a room packed with TV cameras at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Minneapolis. “[The hurricane] is not as bad as we thought it would be. I know in large part it is because of our prayers.”

{mospagebreak}She introduced her and her husband’s children, including their adopted daughter Bridget, as well as Jack, James and Meghan, all of whom were seated in the audience. “I want you to know all of America stands with you at this trying time,” she said. “I am touched you would join us here with all that is going on.”

More than anything, she said, “We are here with you.”

Cindy McCain did not criticize Sen. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden's finishing what Obama started with early learning Cotton tells Garland: 'Thank God you're not on the Supreme Court' Budowsky: Vote for Terry McAuliffe: The midterms have begun MORE’s (D-Ill.) campaign and instead focused on promoting her husband: “I truly believe my husband is the one person in this race that can keep this country strong with the kind of integrity we have always had as Americans. Over the years I have watched my husband grow, not just as a leader, but as a man.”

Cindy McCain introduced Laura Bush to the podium by saying, “The fact that I’m standing here on the same stage with her aspiring to take the job she has is mind-boggling.”

Laura Bush took on a bit sharper tone than Mrs. McCain’s. She called Sen. McCain a “true American hero,” and said he is “someone who is experienced and has focused on foreign policy, especially as compared to the other side.”

The first lady tried to soothe the delegates. “I know all of you have lumps in your throat and fear in your hearts,” she said. “We’re all praying. I know you can do it again.”

Louisiana will have a full delegation on the floor this week, with 39 original delegates and enough alternates to make up the difference should any decide to leave. Sen. McCain’s campaign on Sunday offered to fly any member of the delegation back home or to fly family members here. One Louisiana delegate, Rhett Davis, took him up on it and flew home, picked up his family and returned to Minneapolis. They attended the delegation breakfast Monday morning, were seated up front and introduced by Cindy McCain.

Delegates and alternates said the appearance of Cindy McCain and Laura Bush showed what the future holds with Sen. McCain in the White House. “It was great support for our state — it means so much,” said Laura Seabaugh of Shreveport, La., whose husband, Alex, is a delegate.

Seabaugh, who had been text-messaging her mother about the fierceness of the wind back home, said she had moved their four young daughters to the first floor of their home for sleep to try to ensure their safety. She said she harbors no ill will toward President Bush for what happened with Hurricane Katrina.

“What people don’t understand is everyone was slow to respond to Katrina,” she said. “You cannot blame it on one man.”

Bob Ellis of New Orleans admitted to being a bundle of nerves. “I’m really anxious right now,” he said, recalling that during Katrina the roof of his home ripped off and the home eventually sank. “It was not livable.”

Ellis said the choice of the spouses to speak at the delegation breakfast was symbolic. “It shows they are dedicated,” he said. “It’s comforting that the president is taking charge this time.”

Louisiana state Rep. Kay Kellogg Katz, a delegate, also expressed praise for the comforting and compassionate words of the wives. She said there is no place for her now but Minneapolis.